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Thousands Of Dead People On Connecticut's Voter Rolls

By SHAWN R. BEALS

October 06, 2008

An in-depth look at voter rolls across the state by a group of University of Connecticut journalism students earlier this year found that about 8,500 dead people were registered to vote, and that clerical errors made it appear that 300 of them actually had voted.

A closer look by state election officials thus far has found no evidence of election fraud, though the review is ongoing. The students' effort focused attention on weaknesses in public record-keeping at the local level that allowed thousands of mistakes to go undetected.

After the report appeared in The Courant in April, Secretary of the State Susan Bysiewicz started an investigation to determine if local officials were taking all appropriate measures to ensure the accuracy of voter lists.

Six months into the review, and less than a month from a presidential election, Bysiewicz said her office has been and still is working with local officials to make sure that the names of the deceased are removed from voter rolls.

The review won't be finished before the Nov. 4 election, she said.

"While we want to remove dead people from the rolls, we don't want to be overzealous and disenfranchise people," Bysiewicz said Friday.

She said that since the data were collected by the UConn group, 5,300 names have been confirmed deceased and they have been taken off voter lists across the state. Another 1,300 are under review, and the rest have been corrected through the normal course of voter registrations.

The secretary of the state's review found that one of the main reasons the names of the dead can appear on voter lists is the patchwork nature of the current system of death notification used by registrars to keep the lists up to date.

Registrars rely on death certificates from local hospitals or family members and printed obituaries to confirm deaths. Because there is no comprehensive interstate or intrastate notification system, many death notices never reach the town where the person was registered to vote, so the name stays on the voter list.

"There are holes in the federal interstate compact," Bysiewicz said. There is an agreement among 35 states to share death information so municipalities and states can be notified of a resident's death. The other 15, and New York City, are not part of the agreement.

"We think it's important for all the states to be a part of it," she said. "Those gaps need to be addressed."

Joan M. Andrews, director of legal affairs and enforcement for the state Elections Enforcement Commission, said her office launched a related investigation to see if any laws were violated.

"We're still looking at whether anybody voted after their demise," Andrew said. The investigation is ongoing, and is "likely to be lengthy."

She said the commission is only concerned with violations, not the maintenance of the voter rolls.

So far, nobody has been found in violation of any state regulations, she said, but she would not comment further on the status of the investigation because it is pending.

Bysiewicz said she will pursue legislative changes in 2009 to try to make the process of removing the dead from active voter rolls more standardized. She said it would be important to try to make probate decisions available to town clerks and registrars of voters.

She said she would also seek federal legislation to force all states to be a part of the notification agreement.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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